The Israeli government has declared over a thousand acres of territory in the occupied West Bank to be “state land”, making the construction of Israeli settlements legally possible.
The declaration, coming soon after the recent war on Gaza, has been condemned by Palestinian and Israeli peace groups as a land grab and a provocation. US and British government ministers have also urged the Israeli government to reverse its decision.
The seized land is in Gush Etzion, a cluster of Jewish settlements south of Jerusalem and Bethlehem. The area is a significant one, both historically and in terms of where the boundaries of a Palestinian state might be drawn. Gush Etzion had been a site of Jewish settlement before the declaration of the Israeli state, but the Jews there were massacred by the Arab Legion in the 1948 Arab-Israeli war, making its later reconstruction and maintenance an emotive issue. Given its proximity to the 1967 border, it seems likely that at least part of the land would become part of Israel in exchange for other territory in the event of a two-state solution.
Nevertheless, the seizure of yet more occupied land is an aggressive and inflammatory act. It makes an independent Palestinian state alongside Israel difficult. Different critics have read different motivations into the move, with some interpreting it as a calculated humiliation of Fatah, who rule in the West Bank, for going into coalition with the Islamist Hamas.
Others reckon Benjamin Netanyahu has allowed the seizure to go ahead as a sop to the settler movement and his right-wing base, both of whom are being courted by political rivals to his right.
Either way, the task of the left in Israel, Palestine and internationally is to demand an end to the occupation, an end to land grabs, and the creation of an independent Palestinian state.